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3 Fired Over Fatal Mortar Training Explosion


Seven weeks after a night time training program in Nevada turned deadly for seven Marines, three officers with command responsibility, or oversight of the training mission, have been fired.

The Marine battalion commander, its Alpha Company commander and a warrant officer were relieved of duty on Wednesday, according to Marine Corps Times, which first reported the news. Seven Marines died from the explosion on the night of March 18 at Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada when a 60mm mortar round exploded in a mortar tube. Eight other Marines were injured.

The incident remains under investigation but the dismissal of Lt. Col. Andrew McNulty, Capt. Kelby Breivogel and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Douglas Derring, the battalion’s infantry weapons officer, are based on preliminary findings, the paper reported.

Lt. Oliver David, a spokesman at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where the Marine unit is based, told the Associated Press on Wednesday that no charges are expected to be filed against any of the officers. According to the Times report, all three remain on active duty, though it is not clear what their next assignments will be.

Killed in the explosion were Pfc. Joshua M. Martino, 19; Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II, 20; Lance Cpl. Roger W. Muchnick Jr., 23; Lance Cpl. Joshua C. Taylor, 21; Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork, 21; Lance Cpl. William T. Wild IV, 21; and Cpl. Aaron J. Ripperda, 26.

At the time of the accident the Marines were assigned to Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., and were wrapping up winter mountain training.

After the accident the Corps immediately suspended worldwide use of the M224A1 60mm mortar system involved in the accident. The military’s Joint Munitions Command at Rock Island, Ill., suspended the lots of ammo fired at the Nevada depot pending the investigation’s completion. The moratorium, which remains in place, included an exception for discretionary use by battlefield commanders.

McNulty had taken command of the Lejeune-based 1st Bn., 9th Marines, less than a year ago. Brig. Gen. James Lukeman, commanding general of 2nd Marine Division, the battalion’s parent command, made the determination to fire the three. Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Peter Koerner told Marine Corps Times that McNulty was relieved due to a “loss of confidence in his ability to continue to lead the battalion.”

Battalion Executive Officer Maj. Thomas Siverts has been put in charge until a new commander is selected, which should take several weeks, according to Koerner. The leadership change is not expected to affect the battalion’s scheduled deployment to Afghanistan at the end of this year, Koerner told the Times.

At the time of the accident the Marines were close to wrapping up winter mountain training at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif.

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